American Heroes are Not Always 'American Heroes" in Orson Scott Card's Novel Titled Ender's Game

American Heroes are Not Always 'American Heroes" in Orson Scott Card's Novel Titled Ender's Game

American Heroes Are Not Always ‘American Heroes’
Christopher Reeve once said that “a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, the protagonist projects the psychological traits, the knowledge and the understanding of his surrounding environment, as well as the values acquired from experiences that are possessed by a true hero. Ender does not embody the American style hero, rather the generic heroic type, as the lessons he learns and values he acquires throughout the novel do not reflect those of the American culture. Ender’s label as a ‘Third’, his outstanding brilliance, and his values such as courage, commitment, compassion and faith, set him apart from the norm of children. These values allow him to successfully fight through the hardships that confront him as a result of his differences. Ender’s relentless character does not allow anything to stand between him and victory.

Something sets a hero apart from the rest of the world at an early age. As young as six years old, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin realizes that he is different from most children - he is a ‘Third’. In an area where families are only permitted to have two children, Ender is the third child of the Wiggin family. The government allowed the birth of a ‘Third’ because the Wiggin’s first two children showed promise. However, not enough for success as commanders at their International Fleet’s Battle School. Ender’s brother, Peter, was “one of the most ruthless and unreliable human beings” that the Battle School had ever seen and was therefore rejected (Card 122). Valentine, Ender’s sister, on the other hand, was too compassionate and empathic, and therefore rejected from the school as well. Since Ender was “half Peter and half Valentine”, he seemed to be an ideal candidate (24). Compassion was the young boy’s strongest trait as it drew people towards him. This, combined with the trait of Peter’s ruthlessness, earned Ender the school’s trust in becoming a great commander.

Not only is Ender a perfect biological mix, he is brilliant as well. Along with his label as a ‘Third’, his brilliance inspired other children, but most importantly Peter’s jealousy and bullying. “There [are] many who [hate] him [...] for being young [and] for being excellent” (187). His clear distinction from the norm affected his relationships with his friends, his teachers, and his family resulting in his isolation and loneliness.

A visit from Colonel Graff at the beginning of the novel is Ender’s invitation to start his journey and changes the course of his ordinary life. Ender joins Graff in his aircraft to outer space and joins the Battle School where he is to train to become a commander who will assist in the protection of Earth against the “Bugger” (alien) invasion. This ‘call to adventure’ that the future hero encounters drew him away from his family and introduced him to an entirely new world.

Heroes are put into many challenging situations in order to judge their physical, emotional and social ability to be a leader. The Battle room is where Ender endures his physical testing, while the electronic games he plays, such as the Giant’s game, measures his metal ability and the manipulation and isolation he encounters from the leaders of the school is how Ender experiences his social testing. Not only does the training cause external struggles for Ender such as the loss of friends and physical and mental exhaustion, the training causes him to confront his internal conflict as well. It is clear that Ender’s worse fear is that “he [is] a killer, only better at it than Peter ever was; and that it was his trait [that he] hates” the most about himself (119). His desperation to resolve certain conflicts without violence is evident in the novel through his emotional break-downs after events where he is forced to be violent. Ender struggled with this detrimental internal conflict during the length of the novel.

Since heroes do not die, they often experience a time where they lack motivation and give up on their duties causing a metaphorical death. Often there is an influence that guides them back to their chosen path, and allows them to continue on their journey to attain the victory they have strived for since the beginning. In Card’s Ender’s Game, this is apparent when Ender’s time at Battle School eventually wares him down and causes a moment of crisis where he decides to stop training. The future commander’s metal break down is initiated when he declares: “I don’t care about the game anymore! I’m not going to play it anymore. No more practices. No more battles,” after a battle that he was forced to fight, regardless of the unfair circumstances (221). Realizing the boy’s emotional defeat, Valentine “had convinced Ender into going back into his training and he wouldn’t soon forgive her for that” (242). Despite his want to give up, Valentine’s words of concern made him feel loved, a feeling which he had lacked. The commencement of his training symbolizes his rebirth as a stronger version of the fighter he was before. Throughout his experiences at the school, he is worn down, overwhelmed, angry and at times scared but it is “with that anger [that] he decide[s] he [is] strong enough to defeat them – the teachers, his enemies” (172). This optimism and perseverance to overcome every task set before him including becoming undefeated in the Battle rooms, and the first to beat the Giant’s game, is what makes Ender a hero.

After Ender passes his final test at the Battle School he is told that the test was in fact reality and he had eliminated the entire civilization of “Buggers”. His feeling of betrayal and anger was taken out on Graff and Mazer Rackham as he exclaims: “I do not have murder in my heart!” “I didn’t want to kill them all. I didn’t want to kill anybody! I’m not a killer!” (118, 298). The presence of his internal conflict is obvious when Ender’s devastation causes his to fall into a depression where he blames the Battle School for breaking him down to be the killer he had become.

In order for Ender to come to peace with his actions, he meets with the “Bugger” queen and resolves the situation with her as he explains to her that he “will go from world to world until [he] find[s] a time and a place where you can come awake in safety. And I’ll tell your story to my people so perhaps in time they can forgive you, the way you have forgiven me” (321). Ender, like many heroes, reconciles his wrong-doings by devoting himself to the protection of a certain universe. Ender is not a character who is perfect, he represents the best possible person one can be, given the conflicts that are presented in life. He is a hero.

Ender resembles many heroes that one reads of in novels. An example of a hero much like Ender is Harry Potter, the twelve year old protagonist of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. When Harry is a child he is cursed by the dark wizard named Voldemort. Because he managed to live through this curse he is very well-known throughout the world. Not knowing he is a wizard himself, Harry avoided the fame, flattery and praise of the people that surrounded him in order to attempt living a normal life. His journey begins after he discovers he is a wizard and is sent to Hogwart’s school. There, he is faced with dangerous and life threatening challenges that most children his age do not face in a lifetime. He overcomes every challenge and obstacle set before him, in hopes of one day destroying the monster who cursed him at birth. His courage and empathy is what shapes him as a person and enables him to fight through all of his internal and external battles. Throughout the series, he dedicates himself to the protection of his family and friends from the dangers he is faced with. When the time comes that he faces his enemy - Voldemort, he takes the dark wizard’s powers as he had set out to do from the very beginning. Never does Harry fail. It is very obvious that Ender and Harry are very similar characters and for the most part, experience the same journey of a hero. In no way are either of them American heroes or superheroes but they live up their title of hero by being brave in all situations with the innate confidence that they will survive any situation that faces them; which makes them both heroes.

Depending on one’s culture, certain values are prized. In today’s American society individualism, choice of education, family and privacy are a few of the many important values that are highly prized. Values such as courage, commitment, compassion and faith are presented in Ender’s Game, through the protagonist. The presence of these values are what define Ender as other than an American hero.

Card brings forth several lessons in Ender’s Game, one of them being that life forces one to face unfavourable situations or battles, however, winning these battles, physically or emotionally, is not always the most important outcome compared to other aspects of life. Ender symbolizes the hero in everyone who, despite the unfortunate circumstances, preserves their humanity and compassion to win in the end.

These lessons do not encourage the same values as the American culture does. The control over ones destiny is not an aspect of interest in the novel. This is apparent as Ender; along with the rest of the children at the Battle School have no say in what they would like to do with their life. They are monitored as infants through the approval of their parents. The adults of the novel manipulate the children and give them no freedom of choice.

Choice of education is another American value that is not praised in Card’s novel. Again, the choice of education is up to the adults. The children are not to decide whether they want to go to Battle School or an ordinary school. The belief that everyone should be ‘all they can be’ is altered in the novel. The author introduces the Battle School as the only way to become ‘the best person one can become.’ The children are manipulated into thinking Battle School I their only reality. The irony that Card introduces is that the children do not realise their full potential by attending Battle School they are in fact robbed of their innocence and freedom. The American government states that all citizens should have the right to choose their education to become a professional of their choice, however the government in Card’s novel makes the choice of education for the children.

Family is the American value that is prized most of all. The purpose of family is to create happiness among people, along with love, and respect for each other. This value is lacking in Ender’s Game. The family unit in the novel are not loving, respectful or happy. Because “the choice was made when Ender was conceived” (20) that he would potentially be a commander for the Battle School, the peace in the household was broken as he was not a product of love, but of business. Ender was not born out of love leaving a void in Ender’s heart because of the lack of compassion his parents have for him.

Card states in his novel that “humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant” (277). The author explains how intelligence is the most important trait in a child in the eyes of the government. This is so because it gives advantage to the school and if this brings unhappiness to families it is acceptable. The Wiggin household is filled with intimidation and fear rather than happiness. The children intimidate the parents because of their intelligence and Peter creates fear in the household because of his ruthless bullying. “Ender did not see Peter as he beautiful ten-year-old boy that grown-ups saw [...] Ender looked at Peter only with direct anger [...] the dangerous moods that almost always led to pain” (10). Valentine and Ender feared Peter for he killed little animals and threatened to kill them as well. Valentine had seen a squirrel half-skinned, spiked by its [...] hands and feet with twigs pushed into the dirt. She pictured Peter trapping it, staking it, then carefully parting and peeling back the skin without breaking into the abdomen, watching the muscles twist and ripple. [...] while Peter had sat nearby, leaning against the tree [...] while the squirrel’s life seeped away. (123) Peter’s constant harassment takes away any hopes of happiness in the Wiggin household.

Finally, privacy is the last of the American values previously stated. The lack of importance of privacy is evident in the living conditions at the Battle School. All the boys share a room, bathroom and have no time to themselves. Everyone knows everything about each other, and all personal events are publicized. While Ender attended the Battle School, the lack of privacy was one of the issues that bothered him the most, and caused him to be angry at times.

These values are what created American heroes that are self-reliant, strong-willed, and confident, however, these are not the values that the author indicates as forming a hero. A hero that is American is not necessarily an ‘American hero’. Card states in his novel that “the most noble title a child can have is Third” as such a child possesses values such as courage, commitment, compassion and faith that makes him a hero to the world (153).Ender managed to become a hero by acquiring the values other than those of the American culture. The author makes this clear by stating that “in all the world, the name Ender is one to conjure with. The Child god, the miracle worker, with life and death in his hands (307)”

Ender was different from the other children at the Battle School, he was small, “a genius” (27) and filled with love and compassion. The feelings of others always came first to the young soldier as he never meant to hurt anyone in the course of his training. Regardless of these wishes, he killed two boys at the school along with an entire civilization of aliens making him feel more like his brother, Peter. His perseverance and overcoming of all conflicts that arose eventually conquered the hearts of the world. They “had memorized his face. And then they would scream and shout and embrace him and congratulate him and how him the children they had named after him and tell him how he was so young it broke their hearts and they didn’t blame him for any of his murders because it wasn’t his fault he was just a child” (310). His journey brought him pain and resentment but as he surpassed the conflicts that he was confronted with, and stood up when he fell down. He became the best “military commander in history [even with the pressure of having] the fate of the world on his shoulders"(36). Ender is a young American boy who was declared “a hero” by the planet Earth, however just because he was born American – being declared a hero does not make him an ‘American hero’. It makes him “an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”, like Christopher Reeve states in his definition of a hero (297, Reeve).

Works Cited
Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game. New York: Doherty Associates, LLC., 2002.
Reeve, Christopher. Hero quotes. “Think EXIST.” N.p. N.d. http://thinkexist.com/quotes/with/keyword/hero/, 07/12/2010